To Anyone Struggling With Mental Illness Who Finds Summer Challenging
Summer is here and it feels like everyone is lighting up their BBQ, making their way to the nearest beach or pub garden, putting on their summer wardrobes or inviting their friends over to enjoy the lighter, warmer evenings.
For some, summer brings out the light, bright, relaxed version of themselves. But for others, summer can be a little more challenging. That doesn’t mean to say it is not enjoyable, but it can create some hurdles to jump over.
Unfortunately, mental illnesses don’t receive a kind little note from summer asking them to stay at home to let us enjoy a much needed, sunshine filled, carefree break. Instead, they have a tendency to stick around like an unwanted visitor, no matter how politely we ask them to leave us alone.
There are various challenges that summer can bring that may go unnoticed by many. While some people may be able to pull on their shortest pair of shorts or bikini excitedly at the prospect of getting a tan, others might dread the idea of a summer wardrobe and the issues it can potentially uncover. Body image worries, self-harm scars or eating disorders are just a few of the mental illnesses that may be struggling with this.
For others, even simple acts of self-care, such as keeping our bodies hydrated and nourished, looking after our hygiene or getting adequate rest can be challenging enough, never mind the additional unspoken summer pressures to have “perfect” hairless bodies, smooth, tanned skin and painted toenails. Mental illnesses like depression or anxiety may make these things more difficult than they were already.
Summer can be a time of freedom and fun, but also a time of intense worry and insecurity.
The pressure of what we “should be” doing in summer is another difficult one. We may feel that we “should be” sitting outdoors, sunning ourselves and making the most of the glorious weather. If we want or need to stay indoors, sometimes other, or even ourselves, can make us feel guilty with the idea that we are “wasting” the day or the weather.
There are also summer “should’s” around socializing. When the sun comes out, many times, so do our friends and family. We might feel even more pressure than normal to attend events because it’s such a nice day and everyone else is out in the sun, so why shouldn’t we be too? And if we turn it down, chances are we might be sitting at home watching the sun rays beam through the window as we beat ourselves up about not going.
We need to remind ourselves that struggling with mental illnesses won’t just disappear or fade into the distance as then sun comes out. We still need to be gentle with ourselves and allow ourselves room to grow. Taking care of our body and mind is always going to be important, no matter what the season.
We can still set boundaries and limits, and we can still make time for us. There will be many other days that the sun will shine, so let’s not feel guilty for doing what our minds and bodies need us to do.
Here are some suggestions for surviving summer:
1. Don’t be afraid to say no to things that you don’t feel up to. Stop saying yes to things when you really want to say no. Saying no to something does not require justification and should not be a reason to feel guilty. It is not selfish, it’s essential.
2. Don’t compare yourself with others. It won’t make you feel any better about yourself, and the truth is that when we compare, we become preoccupied with our flaws and deficiencies instead of focusing on all the wonderful things about ourselves.
3. Take a break from technology. Switch off your phone or laptop for a few hours every now and again. Allow yourself some time to be present and reconnect with your surroundings and refocus on what you really enjoy doing.
4. Be honest and reach out. Ask for help if you’re struggling, it is not a weakness – it is actually really brave.
5. Stop negative self-talk. Nothing good ever comes from listening to your inner critic. This often leads to low self-esteem and disappointment. We have no control over what other people think of us, but we have full control over what we think of ourselves.
6. Set aside time to practice self-care. Schedule some “you time” into this summer. Having a day or even just 20 minutes to yourself to indulge in the things that you love can have a positive effect on your well-being and health.
7. “There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling leaves and remember that it is enough to be taken care of by myself.” ― Brian Andreas
With all of this said and done, let’s try and be mindful around those who turn things down this summer. And those who do make it? Let’s celebrate with them and keep the judgement at bay — you just don’t know what struggles they may have fought in order to show up today.
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Thinkstock photo via MariaDubova